I’ve been writing for a long time. I mean, like a really long time. I wrote my first short story when I was in fourth grade, and submitted it to a contest at the University of Arizona. It won, and you can probably still see it somewhere in the dusty archives there.
In my teens, I embarked upon my writing career in earnest. But I had one big problem. I didn’t like to plot out my stories.
Instead, I like to be surprised by what might happen next, like my readers. So I would sit down in front of a blank sheet of paper (yes, I actually used a typewriter back then)
and just start typing, curious to see what would unfold.
I discovered two things.
One – when you let your mind run free, you can come up with some really cool ideas.
Two – problem is, you have no idea how to finish them.
So I ended up with a bunch of great beginnings – three or four or five scenes that just sparkled with creativity, character, and possibility. But none of that gets you published.
As I started writing again over the last year and a half, I began to work with each of these story starters, finishing them and sending them out for possible publication. It’s been a fun process, if not a bit maddening at times. But now I’m about to start a brand-new one. And this time, it’s going to be different – I’m actually figuring out the plot of the story in advance.
Will this ruin the surprise for me? I really don’t know. I’ve laid out the plot scene by scene, but there’s still a lot to flesh out and discover. It’s a test. It’s also necessary, because I’ve given myself the deadline, and if I just let my mind wander, I probably won’t meet it.
So my questions for you today:
As a writer, do you plan your stories out in advance? And if not, why? If so, how detailed do you get, and you have any special tricks you use to keep things fresh as you do the writing? And finally, do you stick to your plot?
As a reader, do you think you can tell when an author has carefully plotted out their novel in advance?